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or: How i learned to stop worrying and love Tony Pulis,
This review is from: ..And She Laughed No More: Stoke City's (first) Premiership Adventure (Paperback)
These PHWs know nothing. There are those of us who have been honing the art of Pulis hating since the early 1990s.
Dateline Bournemouth, 1992. The Redknapp era of glory, cup upsets and promotion has come to an end. Harry's had his head turned by the prospect of stealing his best friend's job. His suggestion as successor: Anthony Pulis. Overnight, we went from exciting wing play to dour midfield battles. One by one anyone with any talent was sold and replaced by a workmanlike drone. Crowds dwindled, revenue dropped, watching Bournemouth ceased to be fun. The day before the 1994/95 season started the board, in their wisdom, sacked Pulis. Things had got so bad that having a collection of players with no experience whatsoever pick the side was preferable to anymore of the dross Pulis was serving up. As a mark of respect to their former boss' ideas and tactics, the team started the season with the following set of results: LLLLLLL.
I kept an eye on his subsequent career, with an ever growing incredulity that he continued to find gainful employment as a football manager. In some instances he was even head-hunted! This incredulity came to a high-water point last year when, somehow, he led Stoke to the Premiership. At last he would get the national humiliation he richly deserved. Stoke would be relegated before Christmas. This, as your author has spent a whole book describing, did not turn out to be the case. Indeed, far from revelling in Pulis' humiliation, my opinion of him swayed and I began to revel in his new found success.
Provincial teams have been promoted and survived before and I've managed to maintain a distinct lack of interest in their achievements. What was different with Stoke (author's note: we are not provincial) and their unique brand of Pulisball was the element of reductionism that was introduced to achieve their success. In utilising Delap's throws they managed to distil football to its sheer essence. The aim of the game is to score goals, how this is achieved is of little import. For all the artistry of your Liverpools or your Arsenals, a 1-0 win is a 1-0 win. If the tiny brushstrokes of Wenger suggest Monet then the clarity and straight lines of Pulisball suggest Mondrian. Going further, if we are to argue that Pulis has taken the functional and turned it into art, then maybe his Stoke team can be compared to Duchamps' Urinal (a crude, yet valid analogy: after all, most supporters of Stoke's opponents last season would have expected to, to use the vernacular, `piss all over them'.) This, however, is not what impressed me most about Pulis. No, my own Damascene conversion came about not in his success on the pitch, but his success in the minds of the players.
Many managers have tried their own Route One variant, few have had success. At Bournemouth in the past two years we have had two. Kevin Bond (narrower of the pitch & hump it long merchant) and when he failed, Jimmy Quinn (hump it even longer and hope more merchant). Last season Bournemouth started the campaign with a 17 point deduction and were odds on favourites for relegation. We were playing for survival, not for plaudits. But even the fear of relegation to the Conference and almost certain loss of livelihoods for the players could not get them to buy in to the manager's philosophy. Following Quinn's sacking on New Year's Eve and the installation of (another) ex-player Eddie Howe, who wanted to at least try and play football, results picked up and the fear of relegation receded. Even Big Phil Scolari, who knows what he's doing, couldn't get the likes of Terry & Lampard to `get' his ideas. Clearly then, to unite 20 odd players into believing one-hundred-and-ten percent in what you are trying to do, when what you are trying to do is so evidently against what these 20 odd players would prefer to have been doing (these guys would have been in the playground during Beckham's pomp, do you think they were running around pretending to be Robbie Savage?), is to have a touch of genius about you. It is this which finally swayed my opinion of Pulis. He is Pete Waterman to his squad of Rick Astleys, Simon Cowell to his Gareth Gates. Without him, they are nothing. He is a modern day Svengali.
Foster says all this, and more, in a far better way than I could. Buy this book and find out how.